Martínez earns spot in Cardinals' rotation

Korean rookie Kim to break camp as club's closer

July 21st, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- All the work that did to meet the requirements to be included in the Cardinals' rotation has paid off. He’s been named a starter.

Cards manager Mike Shildt announced Monday night that the Cardinals rotation will include Martínez after the right-hander spent all winter and spring proving his commitment as a starter. Martínez will be No. 5 in the rotation behind Jack Flaherty, Adam Wainwright, Dakota Hudson and Miles Mikolas, in order, and he will make his first regular-season start next Wednesday against the Twins.

Monday's reveal also solidified lefty Kwang Hyun Kim's role. Shildt said that Kim, who is in the first year of a two-year, $8 million deal he signed with the Cardinals on Dec. 17, will open the season as the Cardinals' closer.

Martínez has been focused on reclaiming a rotation spot since injuries forced him to move to the bullpen in August of 2018. He embraced a starter’s regimen and became more consistent with his health and stamina away from the mound, spending the shutdown trying to maintain the same regimen he showed the Cardinals this spring. Martínez said he kept his weight down, threw regularly and sent videos of his bullpens and matchups against hitters to Shildt and pitching coach Mike Maddux. The Cardinals were reassured when Martínez showed that he maintained his arm strength when he arrived at Summer Camp.

“He’s set up to start, and he was given clarity on what those expectations were,” Shildt said. “He really did a nice job of doing that in the first Spring Training. He had almost as good of focus as anybody in camp. His sides had a focus to every pitch he threw. The results bore witness to what he did in Spring Training. His recovery of what he did was really good. He was very intentional about his results in the weight room, what it looked like in the training room, to be able to recover better, to be able to take care of the load that we expect a starter to have.”

Martínez was a full-time starter between 2015-17 -- a two-time All-Star in that role -- before being moved to the bullpen with shoulder trouble in '18. He took over as Cardinals closer last June after Jordan Hicks underwent Tommy John surgery and converted 24 of 27 save opportunities. He expressed his desire to return to the rotation last season, but he had to get healthy, stay healthy and prove his discipline to the team first.

“We expect it here, to take that next step and continue to learn how to be that professional on and off the field,” Shildt said. “He’s taken it very seriously and I’m super proud of him. He’s earned his opportunity.”

Kim will make his MLB debut after spending 12 years as one of the Korean Baseball Organization’s most consistent starters, though he's insisted that he'd compete in whatever role the Cardinals asked. Kim had a 3.27 ERA in 12 seasons with the SK Wyverns, starting 276 regular-season games and appearing in 298.

Shildt said Kim had familiarity with closing and embraced it. Kim has no career regular-season saves and just two postseason saves, according to the KBO -- one during the 2010 Korean Series and one during the '18 Korean Series.

“Experienced guy in KK’s situation,” Shildt said. “Low walks and higher ground-ball [rate] against both sides. [He has] pitches for righties and lefties, ball moves, experience in high-leverage situations. So all those factors come into play, and he gives us a lot of confidence in putting him in that role.”

The Cardinals will use some matchups to guide the ninth inning. Ryan Helsley and veteran Andrew Miller could be options to close when Kim isn’t available. Giovanny Gallegos, who was a closer frontrunner in spring, just got into camp this week, and the Cards are unsure of his availability for Opening Day and what his role will look like when he is available. Kim, Miller, Austin Gomber, Tyler Webb and Brett Cecil could make five lefties in the bullpen with all righties in the rotation.

The Cardinals like the look that Kim gives in the bullpen, flummoxing hitters with his deception in limited looks. He warms up fast and adjusts quickly, and Shildt said that Kim's experience in the rotation will help in the bullpen, like Martínez’s did.

“We talked about it the other day with KK,” Shildt said. “Your throwing partner, Waino, broke in as a closer. Carlos broke in and pitched out of the bullpen. He’s done it. One of the things about that closer role is not making the situation bigger than it is, and you want to trust a guy who’s pitched in a lot of high-leverage, high-level competition, which he has.”